Question raised by: Ivo Smits

Discussants: Anthony J. Bryant, Lawrence Marceau, Hank Glassman, Laura Moretti, Barbara Nostrand, Amanda Stinchecum, Rein Raud, Lewis Cook, Michael Watson, Monika Dix

(1) There are various ways of writing sôshi, as Lawrence Marceau points out below. The characters in the graphic image above are those used in the title Makura no sôshi (The Pillow Book) and the genre name otogi-zôshi.
(2) Most discussants below use the e-mail convention of -ou- in soushi etc. to represent the doubled vowel sound written with circumflex ô above and as macron o in Hepburn romanization.

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Date: Wed, 9 Jan 02 16:21:28 +0100
From: Ivo Smits
Subject: 'soushi'

Dear all,

I was asked by someone if there is a standard translation for 'soushi' (the narrative form) and I couldn't really come up with a clear-cut answer.

The impression I have is that 'soushi' is always modified, e.g. 'otogizoushi', 'kanazoushi' or 'ukiyozoushi', and it is usually left UNtranslated. Occasionally one may come across the translation "companion booklets" for 'otogizoushi', but I seem to remember that there is a debate about this, as 'otogizoushi" derives from the title of one specific collection, rather than originating as a generic term. One could translate 'soushi' with "book" or "booklet", I suppose, as that is what the term originally points at: the physical form, rather than the content.
Any suggestions or comments?

Best wishes,
Ivo Smits

Centre for Japanese and Korean Studies
Leiden University, The Netherlands

Date: Wed, 09 Jan 2002 10:48:50 -0500
From: Anthony J. Bryant

I've wondered about that one, too... I'm looking at some otogizoshi now, so it's been something I've been puzzling over as well.

The trouble for me is when it appears in titles of works -- "Naninani zoushi" -- and I'm trying to come up with a satisfactory way of translating those titles consistently and logically. I suppose "Book" would work, and "XYZ-zoushi" would be "The Book of XYZ". In the end, that's probably how I'll end up doing it.

Still, I'm hung up on the mental image of a "soushi" as not being quite what
I would consider a "hon" to be -- but are they synonymous? Nearly so? Is the
difference between a soushi and a hon based on the content/topic, or is
there something more? In Heian, by my understanding, soushi weren't hon;
soushi were something to *write* in, not something you'd pick up at the
corner shoten to read; but somehow, there was a shift, and soushi became
something you can read, too... (unless I'm totally misunderstanding the

Oh, great. Now I have a headache.


Date: Wed, 09 Jan 2002 14:21:15 -0500
From: Lawrence Marceau

In my understanding, "soushi" comes from the term "sasshi" (bound volumes). This is in contrast to "kansu-bon" or "makimono" (scrolls). The Nihon kotenseki shoshigaku daijiten gives the following characters as ways to write "sasshi."    


The term "otogi-zoushi" comes from the Shibukawa Press version of the published collection, ca. 1720, which also has the title, "Otogi bunko." In publishing, "soushi-ya" were considered in the early modern periodto retailers,
and later publishers, of books of "light fiction," (e-zoushi, kusa-zoushi,
etc.), while more serious publishers were known as "mono-no-hon ya"and
"shomotsu ya." Peter Kornicki discusses this somewhat in his"The Book in
Japan." As Peter notes, there were also many other specific termsfor
booksellers of different types of books.

As for the terms "kana-zoushi" and "ukiyo-zoushi," I believe these terms may
date from Meiji attempts to categorize various genres and subgenres.

Hope this helps.

Lawrence Marceau

Date: Wed, 9 Jan 2002 15:50:54 -0500
From: Hank Glassman

Hi All,

Now you've gone and complicated things, Ivo. Here I have been happily bumbling along translating "XX no soushi" as "The Tale of XX" Of course, as Ivo points out soushi refers tothe format, not to the type of story, per se. And yet. . .

Isn't it really fine as the "tale"? The "book of xx"in English has a rather grand sound that probably isn't appropriate. . . (The Book of Matthew, The Book of Kells, The Book of Common Prayer, The Book of Tea, the Book of Change) "Jottings on XX" or "Scribblings about XX" to reflect the flimsynature of the books? I don't think so.

Can't we translate "soushi," "honji," "engi," "monogatari" and even "yurai" as "tale"? Playing devil's advocate, I'd like to suggest we could, but I'd very much like to hear arguments to the contrary. What do we lose by this kind of flattening out of the titles?

e.g. Mida no honji -- The Tale of Amida
Nezumi no soushi -- Tale of the Rat (no pun intended!)
Hitsuketsu monogatari -- A Brushmaker's Tale
Takiguchi engi (Yokobue) -- The Tale of Takiguchi
Chigo Kannon engi -- ThePage-Boy Kannon's Tale

How important were titles to people at the time? Often the same (more or less) tale will appear with "monogatari" or "honji" or some other at the end in different versions. As you know, titles are often added by later editors and compilers.

Thanks for introducing this topic. Too late for me, perhaps:

Hank Glassman (trans.),"Mokuren no soshi: The Tale of Mokuren." Buddhist Literature, vol. 1, (1999): 120-161.



Hank Glassman
East Asian Studies Program
Haverford College
370 Lancaster Avenue
Haverford, PA

From: Barbara Nostrand

How about "notes" as in "Notes from Underground" by MarkTwain.
I really do think that there is a difference in feeling between the list
Hank gave (and you might as well toss in nikki for good measure) and

Date: Thu, 10 Jan 2002 09:32:19 +0200
From: Rein Raud

There seems to be an analogy here with such European genre distinctions as
"novel" (Roman/Novelle); Le roman de la rose (a medieval allegorical long
work in verse) translates into German as Rosenroman, but as The Romance, not
The Novel of the Rose into English. And see what happens when we translate
"romance" from English back into German or French. So why should there be a
uniform English equivalent for a term like "soushi" the content ofwhich has
changed over the centuries? I would prefer "notes" for Heian, but a good
case can probably be made for "tale" in later periods.

Rein Raud

Date: Thu, 10 Jan 2002 13:49:35 +0000
From: Laura Moretti

As concerns the term "kanazoushi", it was used for the first time in Meiji 30 (1897) by Mizutani Futou in his "Kinsei retsu dentai shousetsu" to define the Japanese prose from the very beginning of the Edo period up to Koushoku ichidai otoko. Mizutani has worked out this term from the shojaku mokuroku of the Edo period. Actually he has taken "soushi" from the category of "mai - shoushi" and "kana" from that of "washo - kanarui" that can be found in the shojaku mokuroku of the Kanbun era. In the first group there were included texts ofkouwakamai and texts in prose such as Chikusai, Uraminosuke, Nise monogatari whereas in the second one there were mainly practical texts such as hyoubanki, texts for the education of women, etc. (In "Edo jidai shorin shuppan shojaku mokuroku shusei", Inoue shobou, 1966, it is possible to find beautiful reproductions of the most representative shojaku mokuroku of the epoch and! ! ! in "Edo zoushoka tachi", Koudansha, sensho metier, there is a simple and clear explication of the other categories ofthese booksellers catalogues and of their evolutions). In this way Mizutani has created a large critical label which has been used till nowadays to define everything of the Edo period in prose preceding Saikaku. To tell the truth it is a critical label which turns out to be even too much large to define a single genre or a single category so that there are also voices in the Japanese academy that urge for its redefinition (for example Fukazawa Akio, "Kanazoushi no han'i to bunrui" in Kanazoushi shuu,Waseda daigakuzou - shiryou eiin sousho, vol.39, geppou, 1991).

The heterogenity of the contents of the Edo period "mai -soshi" category as well as that of the "genre" created by Mizutanidoes not help much for a translation of soushi (just think that in the category of "mai-soshi" we find titles including theterm 'monogatari', thus complicating further and further the attempt to divide genres). In Italian we use sometimes "libretto"(something like "booklet" in English) but for the majority of the time we leave the term untranslated.

I really look forward for other ideas and suggestions.


Laura Moretti

Date: Thu, 10 Jan 2002 11:41:25 -0500
From: Amanda Stinchecum

Regarding the translation of "soushi" as "tale": clearly from the title of Makura no soushi, in the Heian period soushi did not mean a fictional tale, or even necessarily what we would call a"narrative."

I wonder what other Heian period examples of soushi would reveal, and if there are earlier examples than Sei Shonagon.

Amanda Stinchecum

Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2002 07:22:36 +0200
From: Rein Raud

> I wonder what other Heian period examples of soushi would reveal, and if
> there are earlier examples than Sei Shonagon.

Of later examples there is the Mumyouzoushi, a loosely connected collection
of critical opinions on classical literature, possibly by Shunzei's
Daughter. Certainly not a tale, but perhaps a bit more organised than notes.
It has been edited in the Shinchousha series by Kuwabara Hiroshi and
translated by Michele Marra (MN 1984, No 2-4)

Rein Raud

Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2002 01:24:14 -0500
From: Lewis Cook

I think Lawrence Marceau got to the knot of this problem by remarking that _soushi_ refers not to a literary genre (nor at all to matters of content) but to the physical format of a text, first of all to the question of whether it is bound.

A tangent: I'd appreciate suggestions on how to translate"--shou" ?

Lewis Cook

Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2002 19:37:55 +0900
From: Michael Watson

Lewis Cook wrote:
A tangent: I'd appreciate suggestions on how to translate "--shou" ?

As I was looking today at an Edo commentary on Heike called "Heike monogatari shou" [kanji] the question interests me too. The title is one thing--"Notes"or "Treatise" seem to be common renderings--but how would one translate the opening words of each book (maki)
"shou iu..." -- The Treatise says... ?

Looking at works entitled -shou in my translation database

I find "notes" or "treatise" often used, or "Collection" when that reflects the nature of the contents better. A list of titles (there must be others, remember that the database is only to ca. 1600).

[titles in kanji

Chikurinshou. "Bamboo Grove Notes" by Sogi, 1476 [title from a literary history?]. PCCJL (The Princeton Companion to Classical Japanese Literature) has "The Seven Poets of the Bamboo Grove"

Fuboku waka shou. Kamakura waka collection (1310?). "The Japanese Collection" (PCCJL)

Gukanshou. "Miscellany of Personal views of an Ignorant Fool"(Rahder 1936) (I don't spot a more literal translation in Brown and Ishida, The Future and the Past)

Jikkinshou: "Miscellany of Ten Maxims" (Brownlee 1974)

Mumyoushou: "The Nameless Treatise" (PCCJL)

Ogishou. Referred to by the French word for a treatise in Pigeot, Michiyuki-bun, 1982, pp. 131-5.

Ryojin hishou. "Treasured Selections of Superb Songs" (Yung-Hee Kim 1994, xiii)

Senjuushou. "Selected Stories (PCCJL).

Tamekane-kyou waka shou."Lord Tamekane's Notes on Poetry" (Huey and Matisoff 1985)

Tan'ishou has been translated as "Notes Lamenting Differences"-- Idon't seem to have got around to making an entry...

Waka shougakushou. Also referred to by the French word for a treatise in Pigeot.

Notes on errors and omissions gladly received.

Michael Watson

Date: Sat, 12 Jan 2002 17:29:04 -0800
From: Dix Monika
Subject: soushi

Regarding the current discussion about "soushi", in addition to Rein Raud's reference, I would also recommend:

Tanaka Takako (trans.by Christine Laffin), "Medieval Literature and Women: Focusing on Mumyouzoushi", in Haruko Wakita et al.,GENDER AND JAPANESE HISTORY, vol.2, Osaka: Osaka University Press, 1999: 99-129.

Intrigued by this "soushi" issue, I was wondering if anybody could suggest some references regarding the following: So far I have comeacross various sources which briefly mention that many otogizoushi were written for women (for instructional & entertaining purposes, etc.) but that, regardless of subject matter, there were only very few female otogizoushi authors; the majority of otogizoushi authors were men. However, specific references regarding this matter seem to be scarce. Presently, I am interested in exploring the existence of a link between otogizoushi authors' gender differences andthe portrayal of a specific story, particularly in terms of emphasizing key aspects of that story intended for female audiences.

I hope this does not sound too confusing.
Looking forward to your responses.

Monika Dix

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